The Reality of Haiti
As has been brought to light by recent news, the prevailing narrative about Haiti is that it is a nation of insurmountable poverty, plagued by nothing but natural disasters and infectious disease epidemics. We only hear about Haiti in terms of natural disaster-related fatalities or travel warnings. Our perception of Haiti is tainted by our limited scope. That perception is wrong and that scope needs to widen.
Haiti has experienced tragedy, yes. The island has been rocked by worse natural disasters over the last decade than ever before in recorded history. January 12th was the eighth anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that killed as many as 300,000 people in Haiti. Hurricanes, earthquakes, and health crises have weakened the country’s infrastructure. But Haiti is not weak. Haiti is not damaged or devalued. Haiti is more than the destruction that’s happened to it. As MedShare has worked alongside Haitian healthcare professionals for 20 years, we’ve seen exceptional kindness and a strength of human spirit that defies belief.
In 2015, MedShare worked with a hospital in Croix des Bouquets, Haiti. The hospital was founded by Claude Mondesir, a Haitian philanthropist and community leader who cared for local orphans. A native of the small town of Croix des Bouquets, Mondesir had two dreams: the first was to build a hospital for the community of Croix des Bouquets, and the second was to help one of the orphans he cared for become a doctor. With little staff and even fewer resources, Mondesir opened a small community health center in 2004. Scraping together what little funding he could, Mondesir and his team provided pediatric and gynecology care for families in the area. With local investments and overwhelming support by his community, the center grew. It soon expanded its treatments to include ophthalmology and orthopedic services. By the time MedShare got involved, Eben-Ezer Hospital had become a hub for better health and brighter futures in Croix des Bouquets. Led by Mondesir’s adopted son, Eben-Ezer Hospital fulfilled the promises that Mondesir had made to himself, his family, and his community.
Following Hurricane Matthew in 2017, MedShare equipped several medical mission teams on their way to support Haitian communities. One team, led by Founder and President of APDACH and Haitian-American, Gaelle Castor, traveled to towns across the Tiburon Peninsula. They weren’t sure what to expect, knowing that many areas had been completely cut off from the rest of the island. When they arrived to treat patients, they found scenes they couldn’t believe. Having been left for days without outside support, people were already rebuilding. “The funny thing was that they did not wait for aid to build their houses again, they supported each other and got things done,” Gaelle told us. Despite injuries, deaths, and destruction, they were already getting back on their feet. While the physical landscape had been devastated, the strength of their communities had not.
After the 2010 earthquakes, MedShare worked with a dozen healthcare communities to recover and rebuild their health systems. The rise in patients and lack of funding would have left many feeling hopeless, but that was never the case for those we served. Tending to patients across multiple communities, medical professionals at one hospital labored around the clock to provide quality care, despite limited resources. Working all night to treat victims of a car crash, Nurse Viergemene Jean ran out of gloves just as she received a patient in need of emergency surgery. She didn’t hesitate. At her own risk, she provided care until MedShare’s donation of gloves arrived. As one of her colleagues put it, “As a nurse, she had no choice but to treat the patient.” When our supplies arrived, Nurse Viergemene and her team operated right away and saved a man’s life in the midst of crisis.
The challenges that our organization faces and the reasons we donate to Haiti highlight flaws in health systems, not in people or communities. Highly skilled healthcare professionals struggle to treat their patients, not because they don’t have the knowledge, but because they don’t have the tools they need to save lives. That’s why our mission’s ultimate goal is to sustainably strengthen those health systems by equipping medical professionals to address the unique needs of their communities.
I could tell thousands of stories of incredible healthcare workers managing to save lives without the resources we often take for granted. The resilience, innovation, and generosity of the Haitians we’ve served are not uncommon. They are plain to see in Haitian-American communities here at home.
Second-generation Haitian-Americans earn advanced degrees at a higher rate than the general U.S. population, and 14% of second-generation Haitian-Americans hold a master’s degree, Ph.D. or advanced professional degree, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Individual donations from the Haitian diasporic community contribute to more aid than any country or international aid organization in the world. Haitian-American, Second Lieutenant Alix Schoelcher Idrache, rose to fame last week when a photo from his West Point graduation went viral. Born in Haiti, Second Lieutenant Idrache graduated from the academy as the top-ranking physics student and hopes to become a pilot.
Though stoked by one man’s bigotry, our misconceptions about Haiti predate his hateful and racist remarks. So I ask that you remember these facts and stories each time you see Haiti in the news. Not for the benefit of Haiti, Haitians do not need to prove themselves to Americans. But, rather, for our benefit, because we are all better off knowing the reality of Haiti as a complex and compassionate nation full of people who deserve our respect.
Photo Above: Working in a busy ER, Dr. Myriele of St. Boniface Hospital, saves lives each day in in Fond-des-Blancs, Haiti.